The Many Sides of Shadows

Shadows do a lot of things. And not all of it is bad.

Most people think of what I’ll call the “evil” part of shadows. They hide things. Obscure the truth. Bad guys lurk in shadows. Innocent people get mugged in shadowy alleys. The scary glowing eyes always come out of a shadow. When a horror flick wants to alert you that something bad is afoot – shadow.

And it’s true. Shadows are great places to hide – people, things or facts. Want to lead your reader down the garden path? Stick in some shadows. Not just the physical kind, either. Words can cast shadows, too. Because in a shadow, there’s just enough light to see that something is there – just not exactly what.

It’s that unknown factor that is creepy. Once you shine a light, the shadow is gone. What is hidden is revealed. It might be bad, but at least you know what’s coming. The mystery is revealed. Really – would a brightly lit horror flick be as scary? Probably not.

But shadows aren’t only hiding places. Shadows soften things. My daughter is an artist. When she wants to make a gentler picture, she uses shadows. The main action might be bright color, but the depth comes out in those tones of gray. She does it with makeup. When she wants to make her cheekbones stand out, she shades the hollows of her cheeks. Subtle. Barely noticeable. But it gives a depth to her face, a depth that is most remarkable when you don’t see it.

It’s the same with fiction. Readers complain about cardboard characters. People who are more like caricatures, than living, breathing humans. A lot of times it’s because these characters have no depth; no shadows are there to soften the harsh planes, or bring out the light. I’m not talking about physical light. Earlier this week, Kait talked about backstory. Backstory gives depth, reality.

Backstory gives shadow.

For every light, there is a dark. Life is full of contrasts. As humans, as artists, as writers: we shouldn’t fear the shadows.

The shadows are what keep it interesting.

Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73


Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She's worked for almost twenty years in the corporate world, but finds creating fiction is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, she is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series. The first book, Root of All Evil, will be released by Level Best Books in August 2018. Her short fiction has been published in several anthologies, including the Anthony-award-winning Blood on the Bayou, Mystery Most Historical and The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos. Visit her at, find her on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter (@LizMilliron).

8 thoughts on “The Many Sides of Shadows”

  1. “The shadows are what keep it interesting.” Yes! And I love watching artists at work…I marvel at their ability to know just exactly where to put shading, and it always makes such a difference.


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